Posts Tagged ‘museum’

The Chronicle continues: More Museums Cut Hours, Exhibitions & Staff

September 14, 2009

At the top of the list, reflecting a drop in the value of its endowment, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is cutting down on the number of major loan exhibitions.  Such borrowed exhibitions tend to be quite expensive and the museum apparently intends to reduce the number of the larger of these shows by up to 25%.  Other avenues of raising funds are also being considered.  The Met has long had a recommended (voluntary) general admission fee, but Director Thomas Campbell has reportedly not ruled out entry fees for special exhibitions. Staffing cuts occurred earlier in the year.

The Cleveland Museum of Art cut its budget, but apparently not the number of its employees.  The museum has seen a 30% drop in funding and intends to cut costs, including salaries, to make up the gap.  The museum is continuing with a $350m renovation and expansion.

LSU Museum of Art has cut at least one exhibition from its schedule after learning that its budget has been slashed by 20%.  The museum is also ending its free admission program and will now charge $6 for students and $8 for others.

Detroit Institute of Art is facing the cut of $6 million in funding from the state of Michigan.  The cuts will reportedly come primarily in the form of reductions in staff and operating costs.

The Miami Art Museum has cut staff after a 10% reduction in operating costs but is continuing with a $220 million expansion project.

This listing is just a fraction of the art institutions that are affected by the broader economic conditions and other related organizations, notably local historical and science museums, have been hard hit as well.  Smaller institutions tend to rely on state funding and considering the current situation, are a prime target for the legislative budget axe – with the ultimate result being a limitation on public access to art.

Image:  The Arthur Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chinese Art (permanent exhibition).

New York Proposal to Regulate Museum Deaccessioning Practices

March 18, 2009

A bill has been proposed in the New York State Assembly that would make it illegal for most museums in the state to freely deaccesssion, or sell off, artworks to meet ordinary operating expenses. The bill was sponsored and drafted by Richard L. Brodsky (D-Westchester). Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island) is co-sponsor.

The New York Times reports that sale proceeds from such artwork could only be used for building the museum’s collection or otherwise preserving the collection. The bill would also restrict a museum from leveraging the value of artworks for loan purposes. “No item in a museum’s collection may be used as collateral or may be capitalized.” A museum is defined as an entity holding or intending to hold collections and which is “a governmental entity, educational corporation, not-for-profit corporation, or charitable trust.” The proposal is apparently in response to the National Academy’s sale of artwork last year and conditions at other state museums and historical sites.

Certain questions about what artwork sale revenue may be used for operating expenses under the bill remain and the proposal establishes a study to consider whether buildings are part of museum collections. The bill also contains provisions for conditions that would permit the sale or removal of artwork from a museum collection because of repatriation purposes, as well as inauthenticity, redundancy, and other reasons. It is unclear as to how the proposed law would interact with the general right to freely alienate property, and whether this ability applies to an institution like a museum or historical site.

At the time of this posting, the text of bill number A06959 was not yet available on the NY Assembly website. At a later time it can be viewed here.  In the meanwhile, a pdf copy is available in connection with the Times report below.

Bill Seeks to Regulate Museums’ Art Sales, NY Times

New York Assembly homepage

Update:  See bill number A06959 text, summary, and actions (NY Assembly).

The Source of Cultural Deaccessioning

January 29, 2009

As asserted in this space prior, art is our cultural patrimony. It is a critical part of our identity and history as a culture. The cultural objects of antiquity are held in particular reverence and some countries have passed laws that prevent private ownership of these works. These ancient objects were once new as well and contemporary artworks are the antiquities of the future. But, we are fortunate these days because much of our art is publicly accessible in near contemporaneous time, whereas many antiquities were objects of private use during their early existence.

Regardless, once they make their way into the public consciousness, revered historical objects become a part of the cultural identity and a source of common connection within society. When such an object is removed from public access, whether by destruction or other means, a palpable void can exist. For example, the removal of marble statuary and friezes from the Parthanon in Athens has left many Greeks feeling as if a part of their personal identity has been taken from them. (The marbles were removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and are now in the British Museum). Barring this type of separation or destruction, each generation serves as custodian of the cultural object and passes it along to the next, with the associations intact and perhaps further cultivated. In this way, art is a larger cultural version of the treasured objects that a pass down through a family, from generation to generation. These objects, sometimes just ordinary articles of daily use, are embedded with meanings beyond their mere physicality.

The situation at Brandeis University and the decision of the trustees to close the Rose Art Museum has been an ongoing point of discussion and seems to have developed broader significance. The museum accumulated a notable collection of contemporary art. As a whole, the collection represents a period of extraordinary growth in American Art. It reflects the social adjustments that occurred for women in the mid to late 20th century and also the ways in which Americans’ perception of the world changed during the time. In particular, many of the works in the collection are related to the self-reflexive perspective that American art developed in the mid to late 20th century. Regardless of the apparent subject matter of each work, this artwork is speaking to us about ourselves; how we perceive the larger culture. It is not unlike an antique family salt box. On the outside it is a only a container for salt, but it also represents the daily work of cooking for a family, and by extension the times when that accomplishment was a difficult one. It may represent, ultimately, the existence of the family by the continuation of salt and sustenance, in the form of the associated container. The function of art is closer to pure communication. Its function is to hold the thoughts and perceptions of a culture, and to some extent, its history. What value does such an object have? At what point does its monetary value exceed its more elusive value as a cultural container?

Consider if the Brandeis trustees found themselves, individually, experiencing financial difficulties like many people are these days. Tough decisions would have to be made; expenses cut, non-essentials deferred. When our trustee gets to the point where he needs to sell some of his property to meet his basic needs, then…if the monetary values were the same, which would he sell first, the new Mercedes or the antique family salt box? Which has more intrinsic value?

I argue that most people would sell the Mercedes first, regardless of which object brought in more cash. They may even sell their own home before the salt box, even if the box could fetch a fair price at auction. For many people, such objects have a clear value beyond the monetary. This is how many people feel about the Rose Art Museum and other institutions that have or are deaccessioning their artwork. The sale of these works are, in essence, the sale of a piece of the culture and contain the possibility that the object will be forever removed from public access. From this perspective, the sale of a museum collection should be a last option, not a first, as it appears to be at Brandeis.

Despite the existence of the art market, why is selling art that has moved into the public sphere an acceptable practice? As communication, the more people that have access to the work, the more effectively the culture can relate to itself. If the culture–and society–is to be healthy and progressive, then this communication should not be inhibited. My contention is that too many people in this society are unable to interpret the communication of art. Art illiteracy is, in some way, cultural illiteracy. Without art education, whether it is in the form of studio practice, theory or history, the voice of art is lost to many. The function of art theory and art history education is obvious, but studio practice is significant as well. The act of creating an artwork involves not just technical choices and skill, but also conceptual decisions. By learning about the conceptual decisions that artists make, one begins to understand that there are no true accidents in art. Everything and anything within the work is there with intent.

Art education, particularly studio practice and theory, introduces students to the process of multi-dimensional thinking. To understand a work of art, one must begin to think like the artist and consider the choices made in creating the work. The artist, of course, exists in a culture and must be understood within the context of that culture. By extension, art can take on additional meanings when viewed from an alternative perspective, another culture. Clearly, there are many flaws in the art education that does exist, but the near complete lack of it has, I contend, brought about the willingness to deaccession and sell publiclly accessible artworks–and result in the scattering of our cultural discussion.


19th Century image of the parthanon

19th Century image of the Parthenon, probably 1804 or later.










Just for reference:  

The New Acropolis Museum, opening in the Spring of 2009.


Thanks to those that initiated and participated in this discussion.

(Revised 1/30/2009)